Anson Dorrance on Mallory Pugh, foreign talent in college, how far it's come, and what can be improved (Part 1)

By Mike Woitalla

Anson Dorrance just started his 39th season as head coach of the nation’s most successful collegiate soccer program, the 21-time NCAA championship-winning North Carolina women.

Dorrance also coached the USA to first World Cup title, in 1991, with a team that included April Heinrichs, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm among six Tar Heel starters. Nearly 60 UNC players have played for the USA. Six players, including Tobin Heath and Meghan Klingenberg, featured on Coach Jill Ellis’ 2015 World Cup-winning team.

In Part 1 of our interview, we asked Dorrance, who took the UNC women’s helm in 1979, to look back on his career -- and address key issues in the women’s college game.

Anson Dorrance

SOCCER AMERICA: What’s a major difference between now and when you started with the women at UNC?

ANSON DORRANCE: Back in those early days – no budgets, you’re struggling to assemble a schedule because so few teams had varsity status.

When I started, I was trying to recruit elite coaches to come into the women’s collegiate game with me but there was this very condescending attitude toward the women’s game back in the day. That’s not the case anymore. Now there are a lot of top coaches selecting the women’s game to jump into.

Obviously, we have to tip our hat to Title IX. Now, yes, you are going to be paid a salary. Yes, you are going to have assistant coaches, and a full scholarship allotment. Everything on the women’s college side shot through roof. The whole landscape has changed. Everything is more professional. The caliber of opposing coaches and their teams has shot to a completely different level.

SA: The players?

ANSON DORRANCE: Back in the old days, there wouldn’t be an elite player on a team outside the Top 10. Now you can go down to a team ranked 150 in the RPI and they’re going to have two or three players on their team whom you would love to have.

The job that the youth coaches are doing is tremendous because there are so many quality players in so many programs across the country.

SA: What’s one of the most significant developments in recent years?

ANSON DORRANCE: This is an interesting wrinkle and at UNC we’ve just benefited from it: The rest of the world has realized that the best player development band for players ages 17 to 22 is the American college game.

The professional clubs in foreign countries, they realize that the best path for their players is not apprenticing on their pro teams, it’s coming to the United States.

People across the world are starting to discover that American college is an extraordinary player development platform. As a result, all these elite foreign players are diving into our college teams, enhancing an already very rich environment with their already wonderful polish.

SA: What qualities do the foreign players bring?

ANSON DORRANCE: The cool about thing the foreign players is that they watch the game. Coach Mark Krikorian’s Florida State created a pipeline in a very intelligent way. He built their great teams with these finds from foreign countries, and as a result, the sophistication of an average Florida State team is off the charts.

SA: UNC’s imports?

ANSON DORRANCE: We have two English freshmen -- Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy -- who just arrived because they were playing in the U-19 Euros. And we’re shocked with how we’re going to benefit from these two kids. I can’t believe the sophistication of these two freshmen.

My assistant Damon Nahas, when he was watching this new center back, Lotte Wubben-Moy, who was the captain of the England U-17 team, he looks at me and says, “Oh my gosh, this is like getting a senior captain coming in as a freshman.”

She was the starting center back for Arsenal in the first division as an amateur.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Courtesy UNC SID)

SA: Why else do you believe college ball is such a strong “player development platform”?

ANSON DORRANCE: That band is when the American player jumps the most. Look at the success of the U.S. players and the Canadians, once they hit their full national team.

Look at the very ordinary results of the United States and Canada at the U-17 level and the sort of inconsistent but better results at the U-20 level, when the college players begin to fold in.

Then look at the jump the Americans and Canadians make once the full team environment occurs. The Canadians are Olympic bronze medalist and we’re the reigning world champions.

SA: Is there anything you miss about the early years?

ANSON DORRANCE: Back in those days, my main job was selling the game. Trying to convince colleges to adopt the women’s game, trying to convince elite coaches that the women’s game is worth coaching in.

Back then, there was a pioneer spirit about being involved in a new beginning -- the development of the women’s game. That pioneering spirit and the sort of people who it gathers are extraordinary people.

As for the players in the early days, the reason it’s so close to home to me right now, is I spoke at Tony DiCicco’s wake and so many of those women were in the room.

The icons, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers … there was a unique, selfless spirit among that group, which I miss.

The spirit of all those people, the coaches and the players, trying to grow the game -- there was a real collegiality. Now I think we’re losing some of that as the game becomes a bit more cut-throat.

SA: Where do think the women’s college game still needs improvement?

ANSON DORRANCE: I would love for more of my colleagues on the women’s side to jump in with the men and support their efforts to try and get this to be a year-round sport.

Unfortunately, not too many of my colleagues are in favor of following the men in their quest, but they should.

We’re 10 years behind the men right now, and the men are fighting for a collegiate identity because everybody is saying don’t go to college, go right into MLS. Because you’re only playing a fall season.

We lost fabulous players in Lindsey Horan [who passed up a scholarship to UNC to sign with Paris Saint-German in 2012] and Mallory Pugh [who left UCLA without ever playing for the Bruins]. Eventually, what’s going to happen, as the salaries for the women’s game improve and the opportunities continue to get better and better, the [pros] are going to become a serious rival for us and I don’t want my game to become obsolete.

SA: Why would the format change make such a difference?

ANSON DORRANCE: If we go to a fall season, a winter break and a spring season, playing into the summer, all kinds of positive things are going to happen.

Our injury rates will drop because we’re playing one match a week. We’re not going to miss class, which will endear us to the presidents of our universities. We’re going to have the ideal mix of training to matches, not like the old tournament culture where you would play more matches than you have training sessions, which is an ass-backwards player development platform.

If you’ve got five training days, one matchday, and a day off, that’s the perfect blend of player development. There are so many benefits to that direction. I’m a little concerned that my colleagues don’t have the vision to see that if we don’t jump in with the men, we’re going to be in their same position 10 to 15 years down the road as the men are in now -- are trying to fight for an identity as development platform.

If we go into together, the men and the women, we’re going to have more power.

SA: How do you feel about Mallory Pugh skipping college soccer at UCLA and signing with the NWSL?

ANSON DORRANCE: I completely supported it, if the income is there and she has an opportunity to make a good living, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that choice, although we have to careful.

Because one of the greatest things about the American sport system is the fact that so many American athletes have the chance to experience college.

I guess to some extent Mal did experience it because she was there for kind of a year at UCLA, so she got a taste. I like the NBA rule that you have to spend one year at college. I kind of like that because I think we should jump-start it.

But I read a book “Every Boy’s Dream.” What the author [Chris Green] was very critical of was the English system. Of course, every 12-, 13, 14-year-old who plays the game at the high level, their dream is to sign a contract with the EPL. So they would bring these boys into these academies, and then with no real education, spit them out when they didn’t make it and they basically had nothing.

It’s system that basically exploits these kids because their dream is to make it to the pros, and when they don’t make it, what are they qualified to do? Absolutely nothing.

What I love about the American sports system is the universities are tied into it. And I genuinely feel like it should be a part of your growth.

So I love the American system, but I think Mal Pugh is an exception. Her extraordinary endorsement deals, the salary she’d be making as a full national team player, and the supplements she gets from also playing in the NWSL, adds up to a wonderful career choice.

Although as a college educator, I would hope she can figure out a way to continue to take correspondence courses and continue to educate herself.

But I totally supported her decision, because I think she can be an icon in the Mia Hamm class. She’s not only a great player, she’s gracious and polite, and thoughtful, and kind, and she sells our game.

14 comments about "Anson Dorrance on Mallory Pugh, foreign talent in college, how far it's come, and what can be improved (Part 1)".
  1. Leslie Archer, August 29, 2017 at 10:05 a.m.

    Well said Anson. Keeping the dream alive!

  2. Bob Ashpole, August 29, 2017 at 11:20 a.m.

    While I have never met the man, I have a lot of respect for him and the efforts he has made to grow the game. Many fans do not appreciate how important the women's game is to growth of the sport. Every potential player has a mother. Time and again I saw former college players--mothers--supplying much needed encouragement and informed support to youth. A families culture begins with the mother.

  3. James Madison, August 29, 2017 at 2:32 p.m.

    Bravo, Anson!! I treasure the shirt I have with all the signatures of the 1991 WCup winning team on it and the VHS I have of the 5-2 semi-final win over Germany. My younger son treasures having scrimmaged against Karen Jennings before she became Gabarra. However, I confess to having resented Anson's recruiting advantage at the time: come to UNC if you want to make the WNT.

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, August 29, 2017 at 3:13 p.m.

    Mr. Madison, first thank you for your comment; second thank you again for your last sentence concerning the "resentment" of Dorrance's recruitment advantage as I certainly share your feelings. Many probably don't recall or know just exactly why UNC seemed to win those championships back in the day, and it seemed to me then (and still does) that the NCAA turned a blind eye to the mere fact that Dorrance recruited the best with some reassurances of making the WNTs back then, a factor that if this were to happen today, the NCAA "police" would jump on a team - read this college or university - yet Dorrance seemed to "get away" with it. Indeed, I too remember trying to get a women's team kick started in the Los Angeles area, and vividly remember putting a woman's team together at CSUN and then enter into a spring season against other club teams from USC, UCLA, Westmont College, Biola College, CSULB, and others, all during the early 1980's. Lastly, Dorrance did help out women's soccer on the national intercollegiate map all be it with the help of Title IX, that also filtered on down to the community college and scholastic levels. As for bringing or alluring foreign talent to fill in some women's collegiate ranks, similar to the men's programs, I'd say and would be adamant to develop our own home grown talent and save a scholarship FOR OUR OWN ladies first and foremost.

  5. R2 Dad, August 29, 2017 at 5:05 p.m.

    This guy is well known and yet still can't convince NCAA to change their seasonal structure to become more relevant. I suspect this is because to do so would lead down the path to required paid/compensated football players in college. Anyone know why NCAA is so reluctant to switch?

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, August 29, 2017 at 5:22 p.m.

    NCAA is not run by coaches and it is not a soccer organization.

  7. Bob Ashpole, August 29, 2017 at 5:19 p.m.

    James, my personal high point is the memory of marking April Heinrichs in an adult amateur match shortly after the 91 victory. I am certain she never knew who I was and doesn't remember the match, but I remember. Ric, just so you know I respect you too for your contribution to the sport. Also I often learn more from posters like you on this forum than I learn from the magazine. Another contribution I appreciate.

  8. frank schoon, August 30, 2017 at 9:54 a.m.

    In my view ,It is nice to bring in foreign talent only because it will benefit the American players, to see and learn from new ideas, ways of thinking, technique and tactics wise. In other words fresh,new blood. But what Ric Fonseca states ,I agree with, we have enough women here who should take precedence, after all, weren't the US women that ruled world soccer,so why do we go out and look for foreign talent. I think those who rely largely on bringing in foreign talent are doing a disservice for it all about winning for them. Just look at West Virginia last year. Great Coach? no, I say, just a good recruiter. This is also the problem with youth soccer, a good coach is not one who develops players but recruits good player...that to me is not necessarily a good coach. I fully agree that Dorrance
    had it very easy winning his games by recruiting the best players when employing his status with the WNT.

  9. Ben Myers, August 30, 2017 at 1:27 p.m.

    The men's college game lags behind the women's.

  10. frank schoon, August 30, 2017 at 2:08 p.m.

    Ben , you must have a daughter playing college ball for than I can understand your feelings and more power to you. I'm not a fan of the quality of men's college soccer, but the women's game is simply awful... Even when Holland's women a few weeks ago won the European Cup, the men's pro players were criticizing the level of play comparing it to that of men's amateur ball 5th division. It was interesting to hear the comments by the men ,who were employed as color commentators, giving an honest opinion of what they were watching . In the beginning I thought women's soccer would be nice to watch for I thought it would be less physical and more technical and cerebral . Boy, in both cases I was wrong and as a matter of fact the technique of the women has not improved. I've have tapes of women soccer from over 20 some years to the present and there isn't any difference. I'm very disappointed in the women's game....

  11. Allan Lindh replied, August 31, 2017 at 2:25 p.m.

    Hogwash. Check your bias at the door.

  12. frank schoon, August 31, 2017 at 2:53 p.m.

    Alan, Lets keep the dialogue on a mature adult level. This forum is suppose to give people a chance to express their and opinions on what they know. There is no need to accuse people of bias if you disagree . Come with some facts then to disprove me.

  13. Forever Blue replied, September 1, 2017 at 8:29 a.m.

    Saying you have a bias is not an insult. It a merely an observation based on your comments (this and previous). This is not to say your opinion is not valid. However I think your expectations of the women's game are unrealistic. The women's game is growing. However there is still a big disparity between the very good players and the rest of the field. This is still the same observation in most 2nd or 3rd tier leagues and not so different from how the MLS looked even 5 yrs ago. Until this gap closes some more the games will still look a little erratic. But the support is needed to allow their game to grow and the gap to close.

  14. frank schoon, September 1, 2017 at 9:04 a.m.

    Forever Blue, please explain in terms of technical/tactical aspects of the game you find my evaluations to be unrealistic....

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